The trends for this summer’s styles have mainly been loud and bold: horizontal stripes, neon florals, or kaleidoscope prints. J. Crew offered a wonderful T shirt that offered a two-for: Breton stripes with red and orange flowers across the bottom (It is now sold out.). And many designers, from Tory Burch to Prabal Gurung for Target, are showing wildly mixed prints. Even Title Nine, the athletic clothing line for women, has mad hatter pattern mixes in their sundresses.
But one trend stands out for its simplicity and quietness: the white dress. It comes in all shapes and styles: flowing, lacy, sleek, or sporting peek-a-boo cut-outs. The little white dress is the little black dress of this summer.
Historically, white has always been a summer color. The Edwardians loved to don summer white, but the appeal of the light color was understandable: women were coping with bustles and corsets in the soaring heat. During this time, white began to be associated with wealth and status. It was the required color for tennis and polo players—both sports that originated with the well-to-do. Only those with a large staff could maintain the cleanliness of pale clothes. But our lives today revolve around much more activity than taking a cup of tea in the garden or a rigorous game of croquet.
So why are little white dresses such a hot trend now? The answer is layered. In part, the simplicity of white is a wonderful counterpoint to the bold prints of this year. It works as a foil for bold and chunky jewelry. The pared-down palette is as fresh and new as the dresses by Courreges were in the early 1960’s. And, like black, white goes with everything.
Top designers who showed gorgeous white summer dresses include Valentino, Lanvin and Jill Stewart. But a consumer can find multiple choices at any price point. Diane Von Furstenberg’s short little white dress—which Forbes magazine recently cited as one of the most popular dresses of the summer—resembles a cross between an old-fashioned nurse’s uniform (albeit a short, sexy one) and a tennis dress circa 1970. At the other end of the style spectrum, Gap featured a white eyelet baby doll sundress.
The current wave of white dresses tends to fall into two categories: those with multiple cut-outs, which to the eye creative negative space. The beauty of these is simple: nothing creates intrigue like a void. Great examples this season are dresses by Stella McCarthy and Alexander Wang.
But a larger number of little white summer dresses are lacy and girlish. Empire waists are popular; so are flowing skirts. Raw lace hangs down below the underlining, edging the hems of the skirts. Tres ingénue. We may tend to immediately associate lacy white dresses with brides, but this summer’s look is almost childlike. Think Alice in Wonderland or what a girl wears to her first communion. One kittenish example is TopShop’s Bardot number, a lacy number that any age woman can wear. Even when Tadashi turns out a fierce white dress with figure-defining black detailing, the dark details are made of lace.
What is intriguing about this fashion is its primal undertones. The first white lacy dress most women wear is as a baby. So this summer’s trend shows the endless appeal of returning to a more innocent time, when we didn’t a care in the world—whether it was doing laundry or making the next career move. What we want now is an endless summer of ever-fresh possibilities.